“The worst part of my job is not being acknowledged as being part of the system because of politics, because I am brown … racism still exists.” This was the first time Lucy C. used the word “racism”. Other times she would refer it to as “politics”. It was a curious choice of word. Although it isn’t a secret that systemic racism towards BME staff exists within the NHS, when replaced with the term “politics”, it buffers the harsher reality of it. But in fact, statistics prove that racial inequality is still a prevalent issue within the NHS, with reports from BME staff experiencing racial discrimination rising from 13.8% to 15% from 2016 to 2017.
Lucy, a 54-year-old Filipino nurse, worked at the accident and emergency ward and medical assistant unit in Queen Alexandra Hospital for 16 years. The hospital is part of Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, which is the largest non-teaching hospital trust in the UK. Their emergency department is one of the busiest in the country, treating over 144,000 patients in just one year and dealing with 59,000 emergency admissions. At the accident and emergency ward, Lucy cared for “chronic and critically ill patients who suffer from chest pain” and worked alongside other nurses to provide treatment. “There’s a camaraderie [in A&E].” remarks Lucy. “We work hand-in-hand and when one patient is injured or in pain, everybody jumps in.”
Last year, Lucy resigned from the NHS. Although she has quit her staff job, Lucy continues her life-long vocation as an agency nurse. “I have more time and freedom to look after my family”, she discloses as her voice softens in mentioning of her loved ones. Due to the staffing crisis in the NHS, many have turned to agency nursing. For Lucy, it was her best option as she can support her daughter, who is overdue to give birth and her son-in-law who is preparing for his final operation for his spine.
But this is not the first time Lucy took extreme lengths to care for her family. After graduating with a master’s degree in nursing, Lucy began working for the Philippine Heart Centre for Asia and after at the Children’s medical centre. She worked for both institutions for two years, respectively. The next five years, Lucy worked in the Philippine Department of Health before migrating to Saudi Arabia where she worked at a coronary care unit and an intensive treatment unit in a hospital, in Qurayyat. After six years, she moved to England with her husband. But even as she travelled from country to country, Lucy would make sure to send money to her parents who live in the Philippines. “We work for our family because we have so much love for families.”, Lucy states. “It is in our culture.”
In the UK, the NHS has employed over 18,000 Filipino nationals. In fact, Filipino nurses are known to be the third most common nationality within the NHS. When asked about the significant number of Filipino nurses in the NHS, Lucy suggests, “For the NHS to choose Filipinos, they save money. Filipinos aren’t being sent to universities to learn English and how to deal with patients. We already know how to do that so they save time and money.” She adds, “Filipinos stay. They have so much patience. We have the heart to stay until we bleed. We work to serve – to the max.”
But with the ongoing shortage of nurses in the UK, it is critical for the NHS to now more than ever, step up and listen to their BME staff. Wendy Irwin, the Head for Equality and Diversity for RCN states, “For a long time, the NHS has been guilty of completely believing that there would always be plenty and in the time of scarcity, there is a sharpened focus on this issue, but not nearly fast enough, not clearly with the degree of rigour that’s needed to bring about structural change.”
So although, there have been changes made to tackle racism and help amazing nurses like Lucy, the progress is slow. It is more of a question on when it will end and if ever.